Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Nordic challenge

I must add one more point to my post of yesterday:

When you no longer have to drag yourself to an office no matter what, living in the North can develop into a veritable vicious circle. The dark and freezing winters are so depressing that you are inclined to regress into a state of hibernation. On the other hand, the light and fresh summers are often so overwhelmingly spectacular that you need to concentrate on the pure joy of experiencing it when you finally can. A vicious circle, indeed!

Should we relocate to a place with less weather variation to ensure any sound and valuable undertakings to be completed throughout our future years? I know we should but shall we, that’s the question. And how soon would we crave after the changing seasons? As soon as we only remembered the best parts of each?  With the present state of my memory and his I’m afraid that would be almost instantly.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Beating the winter blues

For many, hibernation is only known as the power-saving state of your laptop but for us it recently was a fact of life we reluctantly had to submit ourselves to for months. The winter blues really hit us hard this time. The dark moods are finally moving over now that the days are again longer than the nights and we have every now and then been blessed with sunshine and mild spring temperatures.

Daylight saving time was taken into use here last weekend. This is very late for someone to wake up from their winter beauty sleep. In fact, I consulted my calendar and saw that last year we had brightened up a month earlier and by this time we had already completed refurbishing the study. Now we have only just reached spirits high enough to start working on our first spring project the upstairs sauna.

The melancholy was accompanied by a general disinclination towards any endeavours other than those you simply couldn’t escape, and sometimes even those seemed to be hard to handle. I dare say we also suffered from social withdrawal leaving the house only a couple of times weekly, often unwillingly because we had to go to the grocery or had a thing or two to take care of. My husband was brave enough to take his walk rather regularly but I’m ashamed to confess I sometimes stayed indoors for days if the weather was particularly unfriendly.

Is this the way for a fit and sane couple being fully their own masters to spend the winter? Far from it! I’ve been wondering why this winter in particular was so gloomy for us bringing more severe symptoms associated with winter blues than any earlier cold season.

Of course, we had a long, dark and weary autumn as we got proper snow only in January. However, there were more important reasons. Firstly, in addition to being free from any parental duties as our children are grown-ups and have lived on their own for years, we are now free from any professional and other permanent duties, too. There is nothing we absolutely have to do daily, which leaves us completely exposed to the tiring effects of the short days and the freezing temperatures. Who would not feel tempted to stay buried under the blankets through that when it is finally possible?

Secondly, we have noticed that the older you get the more you suffer from the cold and especially from the lack of sunlight. Scientists claim people living in the North become to some extent acclimatised but as far as we are concerned, our symptoms have increased during the years.

These two reasons imply a third one: with age living ‘in the hinterland’ is no longer healthy for your spirits during winter but will add to the misery. However, there is a discrepancy here: a house in the country will also add to the bliss of the summer season. Nevertheless, if we wish to maintain a certain level of efficiency throughout the year we may need to draw some conclusions one fine day soon.

Until then, there are ways to tackle the dilemma. As I’m not at all confident about my chances of ever growing a serious interest in exercise, which is known to be of help in your battle against winter blues, we must introduce bright light therapy to our daily routine next winter. The initial dose is 30 minutes each morning but later a mere 15-minute scheduled exposure to bright light daily should clear away your melancholy.

I suppose the only other way for us to cope with the coming winters here would be to learn to accept the natural rhythm of life on Earth, respect the circadian clock and just willfully hibernate like our good old Jack. As much as I love and appreciate nature, I don’t think I would voluntarily agree to offer that much potential to be thrown away.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Idle Sunday

Give me sunshine and I’ll give you a happy cat.

Give me a shovel, a brush and a sanding machine and I’ll give you a worn-out woman.

A wall of our sauna after the washing and brushing just before the sanding.

Give me Roman holiday on screen and I’ll give you an idle Sunday.

Sunday was Annunciation Day commemorating Archangel Gabriel's appearing to Virgin Mary announcing her she will become the mother of Jesus. We gave this ceramic artwork from Siena to my sister on her 50th anniversary.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Wabi-sabi in the barn

I don’t need to travel to the South to see disarming old shacks about to fall down. I only have to cross the yard to our old cow house and barn that has been abandoned by cattle and any other kinds of domestic animals decades ago. Since then it has served as a workshop and storage for every imaginable type of junk accumulated by a number of dwellers on these premises that used to be a farm, and occasionally as a haven for pets such as our Jack and some birds visiting the attic every now and then.

The origin of many of the items in the cow house and barn is unknown to us but I’m afraid I am not entirely blameless for its present state of ‘confusion’, that is confusion in my husband’s words. What represents confusion to him is not necessarily at all distressing to me. I rather consider a slight disorder to express wabi-sabi, the beauty seen in the modest and humble things in all their imperfection, incompleteness and impermanence. Although the term comes from Japanese aesthetics, in the Western world it is often used to describe the kind of ‘perfection found in the imperfect’ so characteristic for French style.

Today I shovelled my way through the snow to the building and found that the daffodils I forgot to plant outside and therefore wintered there had started to shoot sprouts. I put them in the sun on the window niche of the south-facing corner room. It is too late for them to flourish by Easter but let’s hope they will continue growing there so that I can take them to the porch soon.

We tidied up the two small rooms at the sunny end of the barn last spring turning the corner one into my husband’s workshop. He painted the doors of the kitchen cupboards there over and over again. Our kitchen diner’s refurbishing is not entirely completed yet – it was put on hold for the winter season – but he certainly deserves an honorary mention for the patience with the 13 doors and 14 drawers and the unforgiving cream paint. I’ve already awarded him with a Moomintroll figurine carrying a paintbrush and pot, in my attempt to ensure that the DIY will continue in the wabi-sabi barn also this spring.

A run through Châteauneuf

One month to go until our departure to Spain and my fever has started to rise. I’ve spent a moment or two by the computer entertaining myself with scenes from our earlier trips to the Mediterranean. That is an occupation I will never get tired of.

Thank God for the Google maps! Without this service I could never have been sure about the names of all the villages we visited when making excursions from Nice during the trip I mentioned earlier. The only option would have been to ask the friend who was driving as he will remember everything. I tried to study my Michelin carte routière et touristique but found it impossible to trace every turn and simply had to consult the satellite view.

I’ve been to Grasse several times but there are so many roads leading to the perfume town that it was my first drive through and stop at this old village I had forgotten the name of and now learnt to be Châteauneuf-Grasse. Small, very quiet and so beautiful, naturally.

I don’t think you can experience anywhere else the same density of breathtakingly picturesque habitations as in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in France. Especially in the Alpes Maritimes department every few kilometres will bring you to yet another ‘most beautiful little village in the world’.

When I look at these photos taken a few years ago as early as in March it’s becoming evident we’ll soon have to be – yet again – unfaithful to Italy and pay a visit to the south of France during the season when everything is blooming.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Slowly but surely

The vernal equinox or the March equinox occurred today. It marks the point at which the day and the night are approximately 12 hours all over the world. On the day of the equinox, the sun rises exactly from the east, shines vertically overhead on the equator and sets exactly to the west. From now on, we should be speeding towards spring on the northern hemisphere.

When you are anticipating something time will certainly be crawling. Even more so now that it seems every two steps forward towards spring will be followed by one step backwards. Again last night we had some snowfall.

Nevertheless, the white layers are shrinking. There is still quite a lot of snow on the north and west-facing rooftops of the old buildings around our yard but the sound of water dripping from the rain gutters increases day by day.

'The Creation of Adam' on our barn rooftop.

Only last week the snow carried the weight of a man but now it is difficult even for the cat to thread on it without having his paw sink into it every few steps. The progress towards the awakening of nature seems too slow but there surely is some. 

Saturday, 17 March 2012

March in and around Nice

It’s been so depressingly grey that I can’t help browsing some old photos to brighten up my spirits. These were taken a few years ago in March on a trip to Nice and its surroundings. In fact, I was travelling with the friends with whom well be staying in Catalonia in a few weeks as I told in an earlier post.

Don’t you just have to love the colours and decorations of the Mediterranean buildings! My favourites are those of the ProvenceCôte d’Azur area. When my children were young we drove several times to spend the summer holiday there but that was ages before the digital camera era. Must make another entry to the never-ending list of tasks awaiting to be started: digitize your slides. 

(The following photos are from Nice.)

A tip to mussel lovers, a bit to the right of this view on the Quai des Docks in the old harbour of Nice there is a restaurant called l'Escale specializing in moules. Some locals say they serve the best moules in town.  

Since then I’ve never visited the Mediterranean in the hottest season, except for a week in Barcelona once and ten days in Croatia a couple of years ago. I kind of miss it even though I don’t like excessive heat. In those days leaving the country was a way to make sure you won’t be disturbed from the office during your four-week vacation. Now that there is no office interested in us, a retiree and a lady of leisure, the Finnish summer with its light nights is something we absolutely want to experience every time. You can’t have it both ways I’m afraid. 

(The following photos are from Menton.)

Perhaps it is just because of the long wait that we appreciate the summer so heartily and it feels so unique when it finally arrives. Until then I’ll have to take some joy in watching these photos: we are still surrounded by piles of snow but somewhere on this continent you can already sit under the sun by the sea.

(The following photos were shot 1: in St. Tropez, 2&3: in Cannes, 4&5: somewhere on the coast of the Massif de l'Estérel and 6&7: at Théoule-sur-Mer.)